Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 34, March 2014

Reading Caste, Gender and Sexuality in Dalit Writings

Smita M. Patil

  1. As we map the recent academic trends in dalit studies in India, one of the prime discourses in this area is dalit literature in general and dalit autobiographical writings in particular. The dalit genre has also reflected largely on debates relating to the intersections of caste and gender. Nevertheless, the question of sexuality has never been recognised as a prime mode of critical intellectual enquiry. Thus, it has evaded the nuances of power which complicates dalit life. The main thrust of this paper is to explore how the debates on caste, gender and sexuality are being refracted through the dalit writings that are integral to academic discourse, dalit autobiographical writing and forms of narrative that reflect on the aforementioned theme from different parts of India. Thus, in this paper I ponder on the diverse nature of dalit articulations that are being structured under the forms of caste ideology. I scan the ways in which the genre of dalit writing and narratives re-construct or undermine the nature of caste, gender and sexuality. What are the ideological premises that install such dalit intellectual enquiry—that map the conflictual and existential dimensions of caste, gender and sexuality? Do these writings reframe or alter the dominant, exploitative, non-dalit caste understandings of dalit articulations? Has dalit literature acquired the critical intellectual space to delineate tensions that are codified within the ideologies of caste, gender and sexuality?

    Roots of dalit investigations
  2. The history of dalit literature shows that the epochal Varkari or the Bhakti movement in Maharashtra ignited the creative insurrection of dalit intellectuals. This movement was founded at the end of the thirteenth and the early fourteenth centuries.[1] It elevated the tradition which was centred on individual spiritual liberation gained by appealing to God. Many of the noted saints such as Dnyaneshwar, Namdev, Tukaram, Ekanath, Chokhamela and so on from all sections of the caste and class groups participated in it. One of the leading saints named Chokhamela, an untouchable, conceptualised the gruesome face of untouchability, caste and social anguish.
  3. In one of the Abhangas, Chokhamela poses a form of skepticism that reflects on the competence of his social space to worship God.[2] It attempts to solve the quandaries he faces regarding his lower location in the caste system and the pollution that is structured through the social body of the untouchables. Thus, he critically revisits the social world that prevents him from engaging with God. He problematises the notion of touch that is linked to graded inequality and the 'others' who perceive potential threats in his 'touch.'[3] Chokhamela produces a genre of radical and liberating theology that seeks justice.[4]
  4. He further expresses the categories of purity and pollution that codify the caste system through one of his Abhangas. Homogeneity and uniqueness, for Chokhamela, are universal in nature. He deliberates on the uniformity that is ingrained in the substances of the world and queries the irrationality that constructs the ideas of purity and pollution. The body, according to Chokhamela, acts as a force that determines pollution. Practices and conceptualisation based on pollution permeate the diverse realms of life and also emphasise the lack of knowledge regarding the epistemic grounds that decide the purity of people.[5] These philosophical questions that are integral to the social body of untouchables were later interpreted by women from the lower castes of Maharashtra.
  5. Critical reflections on caste, class and gender were cogently articulated by women belonging to the prominent untouchable caste of Mahar, such as those posed by Soyrabai and Nirmala. Both were aware of their location in society based on caste and gender. Soyrabai was the wife of Chokhamela and Nirmala was his sister.[6] Eleanor Zelliot argues that Soyrabai reflects upon her position as a lower caste woman in some of her songs:

      As she states, A body is unclean, they say, only the soul is untainted
      But the impurity of the body is born with the body.
      By which rule has a body become pure?
      Not a creature in the world has been born
        except in a gory womb.

      This is the glory of God: defilement exists within.
      The body is polluted from within.
      Be sure of it, says the Mahari of Chokha.[7]

  6. The Mahar movement found its authentic expressions in the nineteenth century. It produced old-fashioned / traditional musical concerts, folk plays, ballads and panegyric poetry such as Jalsas, Tamasha, Lawani and Powada. During the Satyashodhaks (truth-seekers) movement, it became one of the important projects to awaken people from the social evils of caste, class and gender oppression. But, all these forms of oppression were cultural in nature. Thus, they became the pride and popular culture of Maharashtra. However, Lavani is recognised as the most significant aspect of popular culture of Maharashtra.[8] It mediated a form of performance that re-constructed the life world that is connected to caste, gender and the sexuality of dalit women. Sharmila Rege argues that Lavani and Powada ingrain the gendered discourse. She further asserts that most of the Shahiri or folk traditions of Maharashtra state that Powada has the connotation of a courageous 'man' and Lavani the 'woman' who is sacred, pious or amorous in nature. The Peshwa regime was known for the existence of erotic forms of Lavani. Rege argues that 'patriarchal caste ideology that orders the sexual division of labour also regulates the division of sexual labour.'[9] One of the major reasons was that the sexuality of lower-caste women was used as degraded labour in the slavery system.[10] Lower caste female slaves, for Rege, were sold and recruited in the dancing houses that come under the Peshwa regime. Dancing houses were a means to procure state revenue during times of famine. Theatres survived because of the sexual labour which the lower caste dancers had to perform in front of male audiences. Such dance forms represented the servility of women from the lower castes and were used for the voyeuristic pleasure of upper caste men. Thus, lower caste women dancers were stigmatised as women of wild, sexual urges.[11] However, dalits in Maharashtra questioned the aforementioned practices of oppression against dalits through dalit political expressions.
  7. The Dalit Panther movement in India during the 1970s fostered revolutionary rigour among the dalits and other oppressed sections in Maharashtra. It functioned as an essential pretext for their political imaginations. The history of the form of dalit autobiography is rooted in these organic dalit struggles. Dalit autobiographical narratives acquired salience during the second phase of the Dalit Panther movement in the 1970s. Those cultural productions responded to the existential state of being a dalit in Maharashtra. According to Zelliot, Dalit literature never got any prominent position in Literature because it is written by lower castes. Yet, dalit literature has forced society to think about caste-based oppression and suppression in society. Drawing insights from Nigel Thrift, it is contested whether these writings can act as 'dalit affects' that spread thought and action in a universal sense.[12] We need to grapple with some of the significant positions on caste, gender and sexuality through a significant reading of the dalit literary perspectives.
  8. Kishore Kale in his work Kolhatyacha Por, broadly explores the complexities of illegitimate birth within a dalit community called Kolhati in Western Maharashtra.[13] This dalit autobiographical narrative portrays the struggle of a dalit who wishes to become a doctor. It narrates the pain of dalits in their day to day exclusionary life. Women who belong to this caste perform an art form called Tamasha. This form of art is patronised by the patriarchal and casteist, feudal lords to satiate their leisure. In Kolhatyacha Por, Kale's mother was also one of those dancers who was forced to perform stigmatised dance forms to earn their livelihood. Hence, the family and community members in this caste train their women to become dancers. Men, for Kale, who belong to this caste exhibit a kind of parasitism on their women and detach themselves from work. A patron who is wealthy offers all forms of amenities to teenage girls as an excuse to sexually exploit them. The virginity of Kolhati girls is justified through patriarchy so they can be subjected to sexual exploitation. Thus, the members of the Kolhati caste orchestrate a kind of mock marriage called Chira Utarana and send the girl to the richest man for a particular price.[14]
  9. The richest man can exercise his sexual tyranny on those girls/women as long as he provides financial assistance to male members of their families. The patron abandons such women when they conceive a baby. They are compelled to perform the dance, and the stigma of the caste-granted sexual exploitation haunts them throughout their lives. Members of the family always appreciate the birth of baby girls who are born out of such illegitimate sexual relationships. In a way, the 'rich' man re-structures their financial stability. The 'illegitimate' child will be deserted by the patron due to child's dubious identity as a child without a biological father in society. Thus, the autobiography provides vivid accounts of the interlinkages of exploitation of gender and caste and sexuality. An aunt of the narrator named Jiji, for instance, was the head of the family who had to obey her brother. To investigate the dynamics of patriarchy within and outside the community, the narrator spells out the incongruities of the lives of those women. Being childless, the Kolhati woman had to depend on her brother who finally abandoned her. The narrator was not allowed to take her to Mumbai for an operation as her family members were afraid that she would provide her 'property' to the narrator. However, she insists that she would remain with her brother for the rest of her life. Patriarchy thus conditions the mental/social conditions of dalit women to submit themselves to patriarchy .This particular autobiography demonstrates the ways both internal and external patriarchy impact on their social worlds. Ironically, the narrator dedicates this narrative to his mother with the following note: 'My mother who was not an ideal mother but lived as an ideal wife.'[15] In other words, this narrative reproduces the ideology of caste that perpetuates the caste-based division of labour for dalit women. Thus, it nullifies the anti-caste zeitgeist that can be deployed to liberate dalit women and men from their oppressed locations.
  10. Baluta, Daya Pawar's autobiographical account, also exposes the relationship between sexuality, caste and gender.[16] It also focuses on the association of region with dalits and non-dalits. It explores the psyche of the narrator's father who indulges in anarchic behaviour and substance use, which affects the financial status of his family and forces his mother to work as a garbage picker. His extravagant father spent his own salary as well as his wife's without assisting the family. He also worked as a bonded labourer for a Brahmin land lord along with other men and women from the dalit community and other marginalised castes. Nonetheless, Pawar depicts the sexual proclivities of his father. Pawar's text helps us to read the nature of the sexuality and bullying of a dalit man. For instance, his father conceals the scythe of his women colleagues and enforces them to his sexual propensities—paradoxically a practice with which the women were also comfortable.[17]
  11. The moral conditions of the village are also tinged with the ideology of caste. Mahars were coerced into the system of bonded labour through a contract for one year in the mansions of affluent upper castes. They had to meet upper caste women in the course of their daily work. Pawar also shows how these dalit-bonded labourers were victimised by the sexual desires of Maratha women. Paradoxically, the aforementioned Maratha women, who fulfill their sexual gratifications through these men, discriminate against the same men in the case of commensality. They maintained distance while providing water and morsels to such workers. In a similar manner, upper caste men too sexually abused dalit women. Those men never initiated legal marriage with those dalit women because it threatened their caste status.[18]
  12. Internal patriarchy among dalits further complicates the institution of the dalit family. External/non-dalit patriarchy regulates women from oppressed castes as well as women from dominant castes. In Pawar's book, the narrator as a dalit man elaborated the tenets of his patriarchal attitude to dalit women. He was suspicious of his wife, Sai, thinking that she was having a relationship with a Muslim boy, Mehaboob. He stalked Sai and Mehaboob and threatened to make him leave Mumbai. Mehaboob revealed that he was not her paramour and that he shared a brotherly sort of affection towards Sai. When Pawar refuses to accept Sai as his wife and deserts her, she marries an old man and remains a labourer.[19]
  13. The narrator discusses the disastrous consequences of dalit patriarchy. Pawar with his relative met his mother's sister, Jamuna in an area where sex workers gathered. Her husband too was of a suspicious nature and used to physically harass her. Her husband sold her to a brothel and she became a beggar in her old age.[20] Caste and sexism coexist and strengthen the oppression of dalit women who are pushed to the lower depths of the societal framework of caste and gender. The narrator invokes certain literary ways to represent the sexuality of dalit women which widens the understanding of the gap that exists between women who survive amidst different hierarchies of the caste system. How do the changing societal equations reflect the correlation between dalit women and sexuality? The following section critically contemplates the gruesome realities that are built upon non-dalit/casteist perceptions of the sexuality of dalit women.

    Public as mediator of caste ideology: reading sexuality to foreground the 'other'
  14. The sexuality of dalit women is regulated by the constraints on their social mobility devised by hegemonic, non-dalit men and women. The vitriolic caste oppression that happened at Khairlanji, Maharashtra on 29 September 2006 has opened up critical responses from dalit intellectuals. Dalits like Bhayyalal Bhotmonge, Surekha, their daughter Priyanka, and sons named Roshan and Sudhir were lynched by caste Hindus at Khairlanji. Caste Hindus started this moral regulation of dalit women, by spreading rumours about Surekha; that she was indulging in a non-marital relationship with a person called Siddharth Gajabhiye.[21] This raises the question, how do non-dalits acquire the power to regulate dalit women.
  15. Babasaheb Ambedkar theorised that women are deployed as the gateways of religion.[22] Thus, dalit women become the nodal point for the upper caste men and women to impose brahmanical patriarchy and regulate women's sexuality.[23] On that fateful day ay Khairlanji, non-dalit women supported the non-dalit men in the stripping of Surekha and Priyanka. The section of people who did this heinous crime belonged to Other Backward Castes such as the Kunabis and the Kallars.[24] In this situation the rural caste antagonism determined the forms of violence.[25]
  16. It is argued that the hegemony of certain castes became legitimised by modern forms of sovereignty. The modern state, for Anand Teltumbde, constituted the hegemony on the basis of caste in the absence of any interrogation of the impact of caste-embedded violence. The atrocity at Khairlanji against the Bhotmange family has to be read against the backdrop of the emergence of Other Backward Castes(OBCs) who are rich in the post-Green Revolution era in India.[26] It is also associated with the infiltration of capitalism through big dams, farm subsidies and the Green Revolution which failed to subvert 'pre-capitalistic institutions' like caste.[27] The horrendous institution of caste remains intact even after the proliferation of capitalistic forces in India. However, the print media, which is part of the democratic institutions in Maharashtra, such as Deshonnati and Lokmat also converted this gender and caste violence into the production of an illegitimate relation between a dalit woman and non-dalit man.[28] A report by the Pune-based Manuski Centre also questioned the Brahmanical media construction of the illegitimate sexuality of dalit women. It also exposed those non-dalit women who had indulged in violence but who were not arrested by the police.[29]
  17. For Teltumbde, even the report by a woman journalist, could not empathetically unveil the barbaric dimensions of caste-bound violence and debunk the perpetrators of such an horrendous atrocity rather than foregrounding it as an illicit affair cum ploy of caste-based dalit politics and OBCs' politics. Because in India people understand the caste to which someone belongs through their surname, Dalits who were at the ceremony at Deekshabhoomi, Nagpur understood that the surname Bhotamange existed among the OBCs.[30] Thus, the larger community perceived that Surekha Bhotamange and her brother Siddharth Gajabhiye had an illicit relationship and both of them were from an OBC caste.[31] The report of the fact-finding group, Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samithi,[32] who visited Khairlanji on 6 October 2006, argued that Bhotamange family members such as Surekha, Priyanka, Roshan and Sudhir were stripped and dragged to the main part of the village. Surekha and Priyanka were raped in public. All four of them were tortured that resulted in death.
  18. According to a police officer who did not want to reveal his identity the culprits used sticks to penetrate the female sexual organs. They kicked and stabbed Sudhir and Roshan. Some of the perpetrators indulged in sexual intercourse with the corpses of Surekha and Priyanka. Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samithi submitted their report with the above-mentioned facts to the National Human Rights Commission. They opined that an independent probe is vital to expose such atrocious crimes. Dalit politicians were deplored for their inaction on the violence at Khairlanji.[33] Dalit intellectuals and dalit organisations posit this as a blot on the dignity of the men and women who belong to their community.
  19. The potential of dalit feminist knowledge in Maharashtra is being validated as an 'epistemic turn' by drawing on the perspectives of Karl Marx, Walter Mignolo and Oyeronke Oyewumi, that challenge the Indian, brahmanical, leftist and mainstream feminist ideologies.[34] Dalits' and specially dalit women's textual interventions and praxis raise questions related to the monolithic Indian feminist appropriations of the discourse of sexuality.[35] The incisive interpretations by dalit activists and intellectuals promise to impose a radical edge to the dominant theorisations of sexuality in India. Their interpretations of sexuality depart from existing descriptions that do not address the intersections of caste, class and sexuality. Thus, their critiques of sexuality determine the very essence of the dalit feminist project that searches for a space in order to locate the dalit woman in brahmanical-neoliberal India. In other words, dalit feminist understanding illustrates how sexuality is re-constructed through caste antagonism, ideological and repressive state apparatuses.
  20. The complex permutations of caste, gender and sexuality challenge the very nature of development in India. For instance, the unresolved caste hierarchy in Kerala acts as an impediment to the agency of dalit women. Chitralekha, a dalit woman, auto-rickshaw driver from Kannore, Kerala was attacked by communist activists for not obeying the dictates relating to the local communist party. She constructed a small home in a place that is dominated by Thiyya community people who are higher than dalits in the caste hierarchy in Kerala. Chitralekha married a man outside her caste belonging to the Thiyya caste. In retaliation for her marriage, the Auto Drivers' Union held back her union membership. She became a member in the trade union after struggling for three months. The caste-based patriarchy of the non-dalit auto-rickshaw drivers could not tolerate this dalit woman's actions that questioned the embedded caste and gender hierarchy.[36]
  21. They started abusing her by using her caste name to remind her that her position in the society was stigmatised in nature. Chitralekha thus became a trope of moral turpitude in their posters. She opposed their casteist remarks about her identity. However, they took revenge on her by burning her auto-rickshaw. This incident is interpreted as a phase of dalit protest in Kerala against the activities of organic dalit intellectuals like Ayyankali and Poykayil Appachan. The subsequential co-option of dalits by the brahmanical communist party transformed caste antagonism into a reductionist category of class conflict. Thus, the category of 'public action' that is being used to measure the development of Kerala has failed to address the brahmanical-patriarchal ideology that subjugates dalit women in Kerala.[37] How do the non-dalits permeate their ideas on the sexuality of dalit women? How can we theorise the dominance of the caste-induced judgments which challenge the self dignity of dalit women?

    Capturing oppression, sexuality and gendered politics
  22. The Dalit autobiographical narratives and other forms of narratives repress and reveal the sexuality within their community. In an Oyeronke Oyuwumian fashion, they argue that the brahmanic, mainstream, Indian 'sisterarchy' that reproduced through Indian feminist agency as well as other non-dalit intellectual articulations generalises the sexuality of dalit women to that of the dominant women's sexuality.[38] In other words, dalit women challenge the totalising nature of feminist culture that does not condemn oppression based on caste—gender determined—tangible/intangible forms of violence. Dalit narratives, whether they are by men or women, reiterate the premise that their understanding of sexuality is contained within the contagion pervaded by caste-based order. However, authors' predilections for 'subject' formation find their intricacies in the documentation of their sexual spaces. What is the nature of interpretation of the sexuality of oppressed sections like dalits in general and dalit women in particular? In order to understand the characteristics of the sexuality that emanates from caste-based norms, one has to return to some of the ideas of B.R. Ambedkar, Wilhem Reich, Frantz Fanon and Sigmund Freud to spell out how social location, mind and sexuality determine the psychic conditions of certain communities, individuals and so on.[39] In turn, their ideas will enable us to understand the connections relating to sexuality that are hidden in the minds of members of society. It is important to map the nuances of the subjugation of dalit women via diverse forms of socio-psychic forces. This conceptual move can be helpful in reading the idea of sexuality and the personality of the diverse Indian population in relation to dalit wo/men. What are the conceptual ambits that explore the mental path of the exploited dalit community?
  23. The social location of dalits in caste-ridden Indian society has to be understood when focusing on the dominant communitarian perceptions of dalits' sexuality. It is also vital to understand the specificity of dalits' reading of their own sexuality. Oppressed classes are analysed as a different category of people who possess a unique psychological disposition from the dominant sections of people. In other words, some of the following perspectives are helpful in untangling the correlation between social location, mind and sexuality. Ambedkar positioned caste as a 'state of mind' and he theorised that the annihilation of caste is only possible through 'notional change.'[40] He also conceptualised caste as an 'enclosed class.'[41] Contextual specificity of the category of dalit have to be understood by the combined nature of class and caste in India. In order to broaden the scope of intellectual query that deals with the Indian lower caste cum classes' issues related to caste, gender and sexuality, one has to also understand some of the key non-Indian theoretical perspectives on the workings between subjugated classes' psychological conditions. Wilhem Reich asserted the need to have an analytical distinction between 'the working class impulsive person' and 'the bourgeoise obsessional man [sic]' and their ego-ideal that represses their sexual instincts. Sexual repression for Wilhem Reich is linked to appropriation of bourgeoisie morality by the working class and its incompatibility of identifying 'with their lifestyle with that of petty bourgeoisie'.[42] The descriptions that explore the class, race and psychological stakes have been expanded by the critical observations of Frantz Fanon. He argued that the man is absent in black man who is constellated within nonbeing. 'Aberrations of affect' transform the black to the black person.[43] Fanon foregrounds the colour perception of the world by engaging with the premises of Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler.[44] At the same time, Fanon shows the absence of negro in the works of Freud, Adler and Carl Jung. Deploying the insights of Bronislaw Mallinowski, Fanon asserts that such absence is constructed due to the matriarchal structure among the Negros.[45] He adds that the 'putative sexual partner' exists in Negrophobic women and Negrophobic men as a 'repressed homosexual.'[46] The aforementioned perspectives provide insights into the psychological aspects of the sexuality of marginalised communities in non-Indian context. However, it provides a certain theoretical strength to expand concerns associated with the field of caste, gender and sexuality in India.
  24. The dimensions of the debate on caste, gender and sexuality have to be explored in the context of some of the path-breaking critiques in the field of mental health in India. In an interview conducted by a social scientist Surinder Jodhka with Sushruth Jadhav, a cross-cultural psychiatrist-medical anthropologist at University College, London, who belongs to the dalit community, Jadhav audaciously argues that theories on mental health in India suffer from 'intellectual and cultural bankruptcy.'[47] He calls this crisis of mental health theoretical formulations as a 'postcolonial paralysis of Indian psyche' in an Ashish Nandian sense.[48] In order to explain that sort of paralysis, Jadhav criticises psychiatry for its ignorance of 'local' and 'crucial' forms of suffering. He suggests that the aforementioned incongruity of psychiatry in delineating 'local and crucial forms of suffering' is also followed by the absence of 'cultural valid theory' in India and is linked to the power that lurks between the elite of psychiatry in India who mimic their colonial masters and followers. Therefore, they are caught up in the tradition and caste related problems do not get attention in their disciplinary approach. According to Jadhav, critical investigations on the impact of caste on the Indian psyche such as group mentalities, binary of perpetrator and victim, healing of those forms of oppression, cultural pathology of the aggressor and so on have to be addressed in the realms of academic and applied areas. Thus, caste remains a 'marginal dimension' that affects health and well-being.[49] How does the category of dalit community then be posited by the caste ideology driven hiatus? How does the internal differentiation within dalits on gendered grounds reconstitute patriarchal power?
  25. Demands for affirmative action for 33 per cent of women in India have been criticised on the grounds that it may exclude lower caste women in comparison to the privileged-caste Hindu women. Any critique of the subordinated shows the caste bias and its construction of privilege for upper castes in the spaces of power. The debates that hypothesise the validity of gender or caste as the primary contradiction, for Nivedita Menon, restructure their boundaries and foreclose the dialogue between feminist and dalit movements. It is suggested that both these groups have to understand the diverse nature of caste and gender according to changing contexts.[50] However, the debate emphasises the differences that exist between dalit/poor Muslim women and non-dalit/elite Muslim women.[51] How do these assertions influence the broader questions related to social location, oppression and sexuality in India?
  26. Activism that is premised on the politics of sexuality, according to Ashley Tellis, also shuns the possibility of forging alliances with issues that are associated with marginalised sections such as dalits, adivasis and religious minorities in 'the histories of progressive legislation' in the context of voices against Section 377.[52] According to Akila.R.S., in an article in the Hindu

      Section 377 of the IPC [Indian Penal Code] is an archaic colonial legacy that banned sexual intercourse "against the order of nature" in 1860. This was interpreted by Courts as including criminalisation of bestiality, child sexual abuse and also consensual homosexual intercourse. Though prosecution of consenting homosexuals was infrequent, Section 377 was used by the police to harass and intimidate sexual minorities. In addition, the existence of this provision also prevented sexual minorities from accessing sexual healthcare. It was in this context that several LGBTQ groups challenged the constitutionality before the Delhi High Court.[53]

    The culture of detaching themselves from the questions related to caste, religion and ethnicity is centred on the brahmanical value system that alienates assertions of the dalit community. In other words, sexual minorities largely in India are not addressing the ways in which their identities intersect with caste, religion and ethnicity because they are situated within the larger brahmanic or caste-based ideological social systems. It is the same system that alienates and oppresses dalits. In turn, it reinforces the caste-based doxas that rationalise the derogatory sexist culture of the upper castes. According to Pierre Bourdieu, 'doxa stands for a particular point of view, the point of view of the dominant which presents and imposes itself as a universal point of view of those who dominate by dominating the state and who have constituted their point of view as universal by constituting the state.'[54] Dalit assertions signify that their positions on sexuality are different from other sections of people because of the annoying status of their caste in society. What is the nature of the debates on dalits and sexuality? How do they orient us to focus on the questions affiliated with dalit masculinity and the sexuality and femininity of dalit women?
  27. Charu Gupta argues that,

      Monogamous, heterosexual and companionable marriage was envisaged as imperative for a modern, civilized Hindu nation. Female reproduction was linked to its utility to the nation, as it was seen as leading to the enhancement of a healthy male progeny. In such a scenario, perceived Dalit sexualities too were constructed as deviant, and a threat to 'civilized' norms of sexual behavior.[55]

    What are the intellectual modalities that codified the category of sexuality of dalit women? Colonisers, according to Charu Gupta, constructed dalit women as 'sexually available' and of 'loose moral character' and thus questioned the civility of dalit women and men.[56] In what way do these discussions enable us to move beyond the notion of internal patriarchy? Such an intellectual move requires analysis of the interpretations of dalit masculinity.
  28. Dalit masculinity, according to S. Anandi, J. Jeyaranjan and Rajan Krishnan, structured violence due to 'insufficient resources' and 'social marginality' that remained throughout the lives of dalits. In other words, dalit masculinity is different from that of the upper castes that had control over agricultural resources and subsequent forms of control over women. However, this masculine subjectivity of the dalit is conceptualised as new and similar to that of African-Americans.[57] Reading dalit masculinities in comparison to African-American masculinities, for C. Lakshmana, 'reinforces hegemonic stereotypes of the newly empowered, aggressive, macho, heterosexual, oppressed male who turns out to be a potential violator of female self—her body and dignity, not just white/non-dalit women, but also black/dalit woman.'[58]
  29. Dalit writing broadly exhibits certain recursive admonitions on the changing conditions of caste, gender and sexuality. It positions these questions within the transforming landscape of diverse, unequal Indian polity. Thus, it warns the superficial, intellectual tendencies that monopolise the discourse of feminism and equality in India and forces readers to reflect on the rigorous contextualisation of the question of dalit sexuality. These writings do not render deferred, intellectual pauses on such vexing issues of oppression, assertion and sexuality. On the other hand, they generate critical premises that enable us to posit that the sexuality of the dalit is being judged in the midst of non-dalit epistemic legitimisation and ramifying forms of caste based on day-to-day discriminations.


    [1] Eleanor Zelliot and Rohini Mokashi-Punekar, Untouchable Saints: An Indian Phenomenon, New Delhi: Manohar Publication, 2005.

    [2] Abhanga means the devotional poems and popular songs in Maharashtra which are written and sung in the Indian language, Marathi.

    [3] Abhanga, 76, in Eleanor Zelliot, From Untouchable to Dalit, New Delhi, Manohar Publication, 1992, p. 5.

    [4] Zelliot, From Untouchable to Dalit, p. 269.

    [5] Abhanga, 11, in Zelliot, From Untouchable to Dalit, pp. 5–6.

    [6] Zelliot and Mokashi-Punekar, Untouchable Saints, p. 159.

    [7] Zelliot and Mokashi-Punekar, Untouchable Saints, p. 159.

    [8] Lavani refers to a popular genre of music in Maharashtra. It is a combination of traditional song and dance.

    [9] Sharmila Rege, 'Conceptualizing popular culture "lawani" and "powada" Maharashtra,' Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 37, no. 11 (16–22 March 2002): 1038–047.

    [10] Rege, 'Conceptualizing popular culture.'

    [11] Sharmila Rege, 'The hegemonic appropriation of sexuality: the case of the lavani performers of Maharashtra, Contributions to Indian Sociology, vol. 29, nos 1&2 (1995): 23–37.

    [12] Smita Patil, 'Transcending orbits of Dalit women's minor literature,' in Dalit Assertion in Society, Literature and History, ed. Imtiaz Ahmad and Shashi Bhushan Upadhyay, New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2010, pp. 142–55.

    [13] Kishore Kale wrote his autobiography in Marathi, one of the Indian languages. See Kale, Kolhatyacha Por, Mumbai: Granthali Publication, 1999.

    [14] Kale, Kolhatyacha Por.

    [15] Kale, Kolhatyacha Por, p. 1.

    [16] Baluta is word in the Marathi language. It refers to the occupational hierarchy based on the caste system in India. Daya Pawar, the known writer in Mararashtra wrote his autobiography in the Marathi language titled Baluta, Mumbai: Granthali Publication, 1999.

    [17] Pawar, Baluta, p. 22.

    [18] Pawar, Baluta, p. 22.

    [19] Pawar, Baluta, pp. 116, 180.

    [20] Pawar, Baluta, pp. 90–91.

    [21] Anand Teltumbde, Khairlanji: A Strange and Bitter Crop, New Delhi: Navayana Publications, 2008, p. 12.

    [22] Babasaheb Ambedkar, 'Rise and fall of Hindu women,' The Journal of Mahabodhi Society, Calcutta, Reprint, Nagpur: Sugat Prakashan, 1950, pp. 6–48; see also Smita Patil, 'Violence of silence: Brahmanic media constructions of caste and gender,' Women's Link, vol. 17, no. 3 (July –September 2011): 15–19.

    [23] Patil, 'Violence of silence,' p. 16.

    [24] Kunabis and Kallars are castes within the category Other Backward Castes (OBC).

    [25] Teltumbde, Khairlanji: A Strange and Bitter Crop, p. 16.

    [26] Teltumbde, Khairlanji: A Strange and Bitter Crop, pp. 16–17.

    [27] Teltumbde, Khairlanji: A Strange and Bitter Crop, p. 18.

    [28] These newspaper are published in the Marathi language from Nagpur, a place in Maharashtra.

    [29] Teltumbde, Khairlanji: A Strange and Bitter Crop, pp, 53–54.

    [30] Deekshabhoomi is the name of the place in Nagpur, Maharashtra where Dr. B.R. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism in 1956. It is a common practice in India to locate the caste by the surname of an individual.

    [31] Teltumbde, Khairlanji: A Strange and Bitter Crop, pp. 47–48.

    [32] Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, 'Fact finding report 6th October, 2006,' cited in Teltumbde, Khairlanji: A Strange and Bitter Crop, pp. 53–54.

    [33] Teltumbde, Khairlanji: A Strange and Bitter Crop, pp. 53–91.

    [34] See Smita M. Patil, 'Revitalising Dalit feminism: towards reflexive, anti-caste agency of Mang and Mahar women in Maharashtra,' Economic and Political Weekly, vol. xlviii, no. 18 (4 May 2013): 37–43.

    [35] Sharmila Rege, 'Debating the consumption of Dalit "autobiographies": the significance of Dalit "testimonios",' in her Writing Caste/Writing Gender: Reading Dalit Women's Testimonios, New Delhi: Zubaan, 2006. pp. 9–91.

    [36] Sanil Malikappurath Neelakandan, 'Questioning caste and gender in Kerala,' Women's Link, vol. 16, no. 3 (July–September 2010): 11–17.

    [37] Sanil Malikappurath Neelakandan, 'Questioning caste and gender in Kerala,' pp. 11–17.

    [38] Oyeronke Oyewumi, 'Visualising the body: western theories and African subjects,' in African Gender Studies: A Reader, ed. Oyewumi, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, pp. 3–21.

    [39] B.R. Ambedkar, 'Annihilation of Caste,' in Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, compiled by Vasant Moon, Education Department: Government of Maharashtra, 1989, pp. 25–85; Wilhelm Reich, Der triebhafte Charakter: Eine psychonanlytische Studie zur Pathologie Ich, Wien: Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag, 1925; Wilhelm Reich, Die Funktion des Orgasmus: Zur Psychopathologie und zur Soziologie des Geschlechtslebens, Wien: Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag, 1927; Frantz Fanon, Black Skin and White Masks, translation from the French by Charles Lam Markmann, New York: Grove Press, 1967.

    [40] Ambedkar, 'Annihilation of caste,' pp. 25–85.

    [41] B.R. Ambedkar, 'Castes in India,' in Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, complied by Vasant Moon, Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1989, pp. 5–22.

    [42] Reich, Der triebhafte Charakter; Reich, Die Funktion des Orgasmus; Juliet Mitchell, Psychoanalysis and Feminism, Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd, 1974, pp. 203–04.

    [43] Frantz Fanon, Black Skin and White Masks, trans. from the French by Charles Lam Markmann, New York: Grove Press, 1967, p. 8.

    [44] For debates on Adler, see Fanon, 'The negro and recognition,' in his Black Skin and White Masks, pp. 210–32. For analysis on Freud, see Fanon, 'Introduction,' in his Black Skin and White Masks, pp. 7–14, p. 12.

    [45] Fanon, Black Skin and White Masks, p. 152.

    [46] Fanon, Black Skin and White Masks, p. 156.

    [47] 'Sushrut Jadhav, interviewed by Surinder S. Jodhka, 'Caste, culture and clinic,' Seminar Magazine, no. 633 (May 2012), online:, accessed 1 April 2013.

    [48] Ashish Nandy is a prominent social theorist from India. See Jadhav 'Caste, culture and clinic.'

    [49] Jadhav, 'Caste, culture and clinic.'

    [50] Nivedita Menon, 'Sexuality, caste, governmentality: contests over "gender" in India,'Feminist Review, no. 91 (2009): 94–112.

    [51] Smita M. Patil, 'History and reform in the reservation debate,' Insight Magazine, vol. 1, nos 7 and 8 (2005): 7–12.

    [52] Ashley Tellis, 'Why I can't join the party …?' Hindu, 12 July 2009.

    [53] For further debates, see, Akila R.S., 'Section 377: the way forward,' Hindu, 2 March 2014.

    [54] Pierre Bourdieu, Practical Reason: On the Theory of Action, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2001, p. 57.

    [55] Charu Gupta, 'Writing sex and sexuality: archives of colonial North India,' Journal of Women's History, vol. 23, no. 4 (2011): 12–35, p. 14.

    [56] Gupta, 'Writing sex and sexuality,' pp. 12–35.

    [57] S. Anandhi, J. Jeyaranjan and Rajan Krishnan, 'Work, caste and competing masculinities: notes from a Tamil village, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 37, no. 43 (26 October 2002): 4397–406.

    [58] C. Lakshmanan, 'Dalit masculinities in social science research: revisiting a Tamil village,' Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 39, no. 10 (6 March 2004): 1088–092.


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